Freeport Boulevard Transportation Plan Emerging Design Concepts

City of Sacramento staff (Drew Hart) presented to the Sacramento Active Transportation Commission last Thursday on the Freeport Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts. The presentation slides are here. The city’s Freeport webpage has a lot of background material. A link to the virtual open house on April 28 (tomorrow!) is available. This project and the Northgate project are being supported by the same consultant, so you will notice similarities in the process and graphics.

The northern section, between Sutterville Road to the east and Sutterville Road to the west, should look exactly like the traffic-calmed, complete street to the north. This project on Freeport was successful. There is no reason for five lanes in this section. One lane northbound, one lane southbound, and one left turn lane southbound is all it needs. If traffic backs up at the Freeport and Sutterville Road to the east intersection, then shorten the signal cycle.

The emerging design document skips over the issue of whether four general purpose lanes are even needed. A concept should be presented that reduces general purpose lanes to two, and reallocates roadway width to other modes.

Dedicated right hand turn lanes should be removed everywhere. Dedicated left hand turn lanes should be provided only where traffic studies have shown a clear need, and should never reduce the roadway width for other uses.

Green lanes are shown behind protection for separated bikeways. Since the protection does or should prevent vehicle incursion, the paint is not needed.

Dedicated transit lanes should be considered. Though SacRT has not identified this as a high frequency route in the High Capacity Bus Service Study (Route 62 is 30-minute frequency), reconstruction of the roadway must consider the possibility of dedicated transit lanes and transit supporting infrastructure. Appendix A, available on the project webpage, provides a lot of detail about existing transit stops, which are mostly quite poor.

Some businesses along Freeport have multiple driveways, more than are justified by the amount of vehicle traffic access. Closure and narrowing of driveways should be considered. Since almost every business has parking fronting the street, no on-street parking is needed anywhere. This is poor urban design, but it is the nature of the corridor and could not be corrected without wholesale reconstruction of the corridor.

While separated bikeways are often a good solution, the frequency of driveways might make for poor quality infrastructure. Unless driveways can be closed or reconfigured, separated bikeways may not be the best solution.

Posted speed AND design speed should be considered for reduction. Posted speed is 30 mph from Sutterville Rd (to the east) to Arica Way, 35 mph from Arica Way to Fruitridge Rd, and 40 mph from Fruitridge Rd to Blair Ave. The section from Sutterville Rd (to the east) to Fruitridge Rd should be posted and designed for 25 mph, in recognition of the density of businesses and driveways. The section from Fruitridge to Blair Ave should be posted and designed for 30 mph, as it has a lower density of businesses and driveways, and is adjacent to the airport for a significant distance.

Prioritization of the modes for Sutterville (to the east) and Fruitridge Rd should be:

  • walking
  • bicycling
  • transit
  • motor vehicle

Prioritization of the modes for Fruitridge Rd to Blair Ave should be:

  • bicycling
  • transit
  • walking
  • motor vehicle

Crash/collision map of the Northgate Blvd corridor for pedestrians (walkers) and bicyclists. Data is from SWITRS for the years 2015-2019. (pdf)

map of Freeport Blvd Emphasis with pedestrian and bicyclist crashes

Northgate Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts

Update: Added a crash/collision map at the bottom. Though prevention of pedestrian and bicyclist killed and severe injury is always a top priority, this is not a high risk corridor as compared to many arterials in the city.

City of Sacramento staff (Leslie Mancebo) presented to the Sacramento Active Transportation Commission last Thursday on the Northgate Boulevard Emerging Design Concepts. The presentation slides are here. The city’s Northgate webpage has a lot of background material. A link to the virtual open house on May 11 is available.

I rode Northgate Blvd yesterday to refresh my memory about the street, as I’d not gone that way in a while. So, some comments:

The section of Northgate from Rio Tierra to I-80 is a standard suburban arterial, with low quality development and a completely uninteresting place to be. Changes to the roadway may make it safer, but won’t make it any more interesting or economically successful. The city should not focus on this area. It is unpleasant, and not particularly safe, but leave it be.

The section of Northgate from Rio Tierra to Garden Hwy has serious issues, but I see it as a place that could be transformed into an interesting, welcoming, and vibrant place. The number of small businesses, each with a driveway, is a challenge, but also an opportunity. At least half of the businesses are locally owned. This is not the home of big box and chain stores like much of the suburbs. It IS a place where people could walk if provided a safe and encouraging environment, and there are multiple destinations used by local residents.

I think that this entire segment should have buffered and wide sidewalks. The bike facilities could provide some buffer, but the sidewalk buffer is critical because it allows street trees. This section desperately needs street trees! Of course to be successful, the buffer/planting strip needs to be at least six feet, and the sidewalk at least six feet, but eight-ten foot buffer and eight foot sidewalk would be better. I think that the walking mode should take precedence over all other modes, even bicycling and transit, so whatever right-of-way the buffer and sidewalk needs, it should get. Don’t compromise this away.

I realize this project is at the gathering community input stage. However, diagrams will be used, and I’d like to see the diagrams include significant improvement to the pedestrian environment, wide sidewalks buffered from other modes, with trees in the buffer.

The presentation resulted in a number of questions from commission members about bicycle facilities. One of the ideas that got support is a two-way separated bikeway (or cycletrack) to provide a connection between the Ninos multiple use trail and the American River Parkway multiple use trail (the ‘special section’ in the presentation). There was less agreement about bicycle facilities north of there. One of the ideas is separated bikeways (protected bike lanes). Though of course separated bikeways are the best solution overall, I’m not sure they make sense for the east side of the street. Separated bikeways work best when there are few or no driveways, but there is a huge numbers of driveways here. The west side of the street has far fewer driveways.

There are some opportunities on the corridor for reducing driveways, and certainly some of the driveways can be narrowed to reduce entry and exit speeds. But short of a wholesale revision of the area, most driveways will remain, so the street design must accommodate this fact.

Transit on the part of the corridor between Arden Way and San Juan Road is provided by SacRT Route 13 Natomas/Arden, with a 45 minute frequency on weekdays. The route has a fairly low ridership, but it is a long route of which the Northgate section is a small part.


Crash/collision map of the Northgate Blvd corridor for pedestrians (walkers) and bicyclists. Data is from SWITRS for the years 2015-2019. (pdf)

Take the information about fault below with a huge grain of salt. It is well known that law enforcement officers assume walkers and bicyclists to be at fault, without any serious investigation, and often on the sole word of the driver involved.

Pedestrian (walker):

  • Northgate near Rosin Ct: killed, 60 yo male, unknown detail, no fault, no alcohol
  • Northgate near Ozark Cir: severe injury, 74 yo female, crossing, at fault, alcohol
  • Northgate at Wisconsin: severe injury, 36 yo female with two children, crossing, driver fault
  • Northgate at Peralta: severe injury, 48 yo, crossing Peralta, at fault (very unlikely)

Bicyclist:

  • Northgate near Winter Garden: severe injury, 49 yo male, left turn, at fault
  • Northgate at Bridgeford: killed, 47 yo male, crossing, at fault, alcohol or drug
  • Northgate at Harding: killed, 31 yo female, left turn, at fault
  • Northgate at Garden Hwy: severe injury, 40-44 yo male, broadside, at fault CVC 21453

The intersections of Northgate and San Juan Rd, West El Camino, and Garden Hwy/Jefferson Ave are particularly problematic because they are flared out to accommodate turning lanes, thereby lengthening crossing distances for walkers and creating a walker-hostile environment. Fixing these intersections would probably do more to improve the safety and feeling of this corridor than changes along the corridor.

(in)complete streets

Note: This is a follow-on to streets – stroads – roads. It will make more sense if you read that one first.

The complete streets concept says that all modes of travel (walking, bicycling, motor vehicles, and transit when appropriate) should be accommodated on streets. The accommodation is accomplished by providing separate spaces for each: sidewalks for people walking, bike lanes for people bicycling, general purpose lanes for people driving.

The concept was and is promoted by the National Complete Street Coalition, now part of Smart Growth America, since 2004. The traffic planning and engineering professions strongly resisted the concept for years, but it now receives at least voice support from most planners and engineers. In California, chances of getting a transportation infrastructure grant are low if it does not at least claim to meet complete streets concepts.

The two biggest weaknesses of the complete streets concept are:

  • No guidelines for the frequency of safe crossings are built into the complete streets concept. It could be, but it is not. So travel along corridors is better, but crossing that corridor may not be any better than it was before.
  • Speed limits are rarely reduced on a reconstructed complete streets. Traffic lanes are often narrowed, and sometimes reduced, in an effort to slow traffic. However, a design that actually enforces a lower speed, and therefore allows a lower speed limit is rarely considered.

FHWA (Federal Highway Administration) recent released a Complete Streets Report to Congress and related webpage. I have not had a chance to look at this in detail, so I don’t know if the federal concept overcomes the weaknesses of the previous complete streets concept. The graphic below was the leading one in the new effort, and was justifiably criticised as presenting an unattractive if sort-of compliant complete street, but some people who have read the document say it is better than this. Streetsblog USA: USDOT Tackles Overlooked Barriers to ‘Complete Streets’ — And Sparks Debate.

FHWA complete streets graphic

Caltrans has a recently adopted Complete Streets Policy. The City of Sacramento has a complete streets policy. Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and the county express support for complete streets concepts in their general plans, and have complete streets projects, but apparently do not have specific policies.

There have been a number of complete streets project already in the Sacramento region, and more are on the way. The proposed Measure 2022 transportation sales tax flags complete streets for much of investment, so it is important to understand what a complete street is and is not. Let me say that a complete street is almost always better than what was there before. A lot of our streets were constructed without sidewalks, or with narrow sidewalks interrupted with utility poles and other obstructions, and lacking curb ramps. Complete streets usually have continuous sidewalks of six feet or more, with fewer (but not no) obstructions, and curb ramps at corners. Almost all of our streets were constructed without any place for bicyclists, so a complete street with bike lanes may be an improvement (though many traffic engineers continue to think that painted bike lanes work on higher speed streets).

I was working partly in the City of Citrus Heights when the Auburn Blvd Complete Streets Phase 1 project was designed and implemented. Indeed, travel along the corridor was much improved, and the road was more welcoming to all modes of travel. But there were no more safe crossings of Auburn Blvd than there were before. The crosswalks were still way to far apart for people to conveniently access the businesses, homes, and schools along the corridor. The speed limit was unchanged, though my perception was that actual speeds were a bit slower.

Nearly all streets that have become, or are proposed to become, complete streets are stroads. Think of a major roadway in the county, and you are picturing a stroad. Making a stroad a complete street does not make it not a stroad. Complete streets projects often forget to answer the most basic questions: what is the purpose of this roadway, and how can we construct it so that it fulfills that purpose? A stroad with sidewalks and bike lanes is still a stroad if the primary function is to move people along the corridor, rather than allow them to be in the corridor.

If the purpose of a roadway is to move a high volume of motor vehicles quickly, a road, then sidewalks and bike lanes probably aren’t appropriate, and those modes should be provided for on parallel routes. If the purpose of a roadway is to provide a place for people and building wealth, a street, then sidewalks and SLOW or no motor vehicle traffic is the only appropriate design. This is often expressed as a place where ‘cars are guests’ and bicyclists mix in with other street users rather than needing an exclusive space.

Yes, I am talking about an ideal here. Almost all of our roadways were designed and function inappropriately. We have a long ways to go, but we at least have to get started by stopping what we are doing wrong, and starting to do it right. The proposed Measure 2022 transportation sales tax largely commits to continue doing it wrong, for 40 years. That is the next post.